Bob Damon has trouble going out these days without being mobbed.
He's not a rock-star; he's something far more low-key: a corporate recruiter. Specifically, Damon is the U.S. president of Korn/Ferry International, one of the world's largest executive search firms. In other words, he's more likely than virtually anyone else in the country to be able to get someone a job.
"I've become, in some respects, a social hermit," Damon said. "Every time I'm out, I get inundated by people coming up and asking for advice.
With at least 14 million U.S. residents trying to claw their way back into the working world, recruiters have become begrudging power-brokers and increasingly treasured neighbors and friends -- and friends of friends for that matter. They are swamped with requests for resume tips, interview advice, job leads and contact info.
Richard Lipstein, a managing partner at Boyden World Corp., a global search firm, has seen an uptick in Facebook "friend" requests and LinkedIn connections. At age 53 and happily married, Lipstein was surprised to hear from an ex-girlfriend recently. She didn't want to rekindle the flame or remember old times; she wanted job-seeking advice.
"This type of thing is happening all the time now," Lipstein said.
Mark Angott, who has run Angott Search Group just north of Detroit for three decades, said that lately he just hopes his whole day isn't usurped by calls from hard-up friends or clients whose kids need a job.
"In Michigan, we're always used to roller coasters, but this has been by far the deepest and the hardest," he said.
The dynamic has grown more desperate in recent weeks as the average duration of unemployment hit a record 40 weeks. With job-seekers exhausting classified ads and networking contacts, recruiters find themselves in ever-widening circles of acquaintances.
"This is the story of my life, and it definitely picks up when times are bad," said Maryam Torabi, a managing director at Glocap Search LLC, a New York-based recruiter that serves the finance industry. "Anyone and everyone starts coming out of the woodwork -- people I haven't heard from in years."
In addition to pleas from childhood friends, Torabi gets about a dozen e-mails a week from strangers -- friends of friends or people she met briefly at a cocktail party or a bar. Those who are gainfully employed pester her as well, starved for information about compensation to see how their own pay stacks up.
Not surprisingly, Torabi is extremely secretive with her LinkedIn account and personal cell phone number.
Fueling the attention is a general ignorance about how recruiting companies work. Many aspiring professionals don't realize that headhunters are seldom desperate for prospects and usually specialize in a particular sector of a specific industry, rather than sourcing talent from the workforce at large. Their goal, at the end of the day is pleasing clients -- the employers -- not job-seekers.
"It's always 'What can you do for me?," Torabi said. "And you're always on; it definitely can be exhausting."
Despite the aggravation, most headhunters try to be helpful. They know all too well the difficulty of wooing someone who isn't very interested in taking their calls. And they know that a desperate charity case today could be a prize candidate in the future.
"We kind of have a philosophy that what goes around, comes around," Angott said.
Torrey Foster, a managing partner at Chicago-based search firm Heidrick & Struggles International, said he is exceedingly careful about approaching potential candidates about a job in a social setting. "They don't want to turn into a business development prospect over a gin and tonic," he said.
Still, Foster gladly fields calls from former coworkers at Quaker Oats, which has a particularly strong alumni network. "We fondly call it 'the Quaker mafia,'" he said. He has shepherded many of them into new positions, including Mark Schiller who he placed as president of Valley Recreation Products and later as president of snacks at Pepsico.
"Any contact out there in a professional line of work could be a potential candidate," Foster explained. "That said, I could spend the entire day with requests to meet with people or help with their resume."
In fact, recruiters are particularly careful about putting off candidates these days, because some very talented people may be calling for help. Damon, at Korn/Ferry, said the ranks of unemployed workers are filled with better candidates than ever before, many of whom don't know the first thing about job hunting, because they've never really had to do it.
Damon will call candidates back on three conditions: if they are referred by a friend, if he might plausibly place them in a job or if there is something in their background that strikes a personal chord with him -- like Purdue University, his alma mater, or minor-league hockey, where he spent some of his younger days.
"Losing your job, next to getting married or divorced, is the most traumatic and emotional thing that someone goes through," he said. "I'm sensitive to that."
Write to Kyle Stock at KyleS@fins.com